By Megan Tagami at Honolulu Civil Beat

Counselors are concerned that fewer high school seniors may apply for college aid this year because of problems with the federal system.

Recent revisions to a federal financial aid form promise to significantly increase the number of students in Hawaii who get help paying for college, but the effort could backfire this year because of issues with the rollout.

The new Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which has been streamlined to be shorter and easier to complete, opened three months later than usual. Even now, the online form remains open only intermittently. The challenges could impact when colleges, including the University of Hawaii, send out financial aid offers.

“On paper, it’s going to be a really good thing,” said Frank Green, a financial aid outreach specialist at the University of Hawaii West Oahu. “It’s just really frustrating because it doesn’t work.”

In 2021, Hawaii students left $12 million in federal grants for college on the table by choosing not to complete the FAFSA.

Since the updated FAFSA was released in late December, the online application has only been available at intermittent intervals.

Since the updated FAFSA was released in late December, the online application has been available only intermittently.

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that roughly 1,880 additional Hawaii students could be eligible for federal grants under the “better FAFSA.” The simplified form automatically inputs applicants’ tax return information, saving families from manually filling out the information themselves.

Last school year, 56% of Hawaii seniors completed the FAFSA — far short of the state’s pre-pandemic goal of getting 90% of students to submit the form.

Some students don’t fill out the FAFSA simply because they don’t plan on attending college. But others leave the FAFSA untouched because they’re confused by the application or automatically assume they can’t afford a college education, said David Sun-Miyashiro, executive director at HawaiiKidsCAN.

“It blows their minds, what they’re missing out on,” Sun-Miyashiro said, adding that he believes more students would consider higher education if they completed the FAFSA and saw how much aid they could receive.

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